July 2, 2009

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Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (PG)
The happily mated mammoths and their friends the sabertooth tiger, the sloth and the opossums Crash and Eddie adventure through their own land of the lost in Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, a scientifically unlikely but otherwise likeable animated movie.

Ellie (Queen Latifah), the girl mammoth from the second movie, is now in a family way and Manny (Ray Romano), the grumpy mammoth from both the previous movies, is all fatherly jitters. Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), full of older-child fears that this new family will leave him out, goes looking for his own family and, after breaking through the ice into an underground cavern, finds a trio of eggs that he decides are “his children.” Unfortunately for Sid (and other animals of the Pleistocene age), “his children” are also the children of a T-Rex who, along with other should-be-extinct Cretaceous-era dinosaurs, have been carrying on their legacy of tiny arms and big teeth in a tropical, volcano-heated pocket of pre-history underground. (I know, I know, let’s all just take a minute to work out our nerdy irritation at this whole dinosaurs-and-mammoths thing and then move on.)

The mama T-Rex comes looking for her eggs but instead finds baby T-Rexes who have hatched and now think of Sid as their mom. The mama picks up the babies and Sid and heads back down to her prehistoric home and soon Manny and Ellie; Diego (Denis Leary), the saber tooth, and Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck) are following after to rescue their friend. Used to being the biggest thing on land, Manny soon finds himself dwarfed by the many dinos underground, and to help our unlikely herd complete their rescue mission without getting eaten, they decide to use the services of Buck (Simon Pegg), a one-eyed, potentially crazy, adventuring fellow mammal.

I should mention that this all happens in 3-D, or at least it can if you’re willing to spend the extra $3 or so to see it that way. It’s good 3-D, as most animated 3-D is — nice rounded edges that give depth to the picture but don’t get in the way. Ice Age isn’t transcendently beautiful the way many a Pixar movie can be but it’s pretty, like a good story book.

And like a good story book, Dawn of the Dinosaurs appeared to entertain the audience of children in the screening I attended. The nine-year-old boy sitting next to me liked all the highjinx and laughed throughout. I heard some screams of terror from preschool-or-so aged kids during scenes with the T-Rexes and other big dinosaurs (I recommend that you consider if a T-Rex popping out of the screen right at your kid is going to get in the way of anybody’s good night’s sleep before you take anybody five or younger). But overall the movie works as a piece of entertainment for kids.
The difference between this movie and, say, the recent Up is that it isn’t particularly exciting or entertaining for anyone over 12. It uses a very well-worn structure and doesn’t do much to add to previously created characters — if you didn’t get to know Manny in the first movie, this isn’t going to be the place to start.

But not every kids’ movie has to be a Pixar film to be successful, and to this movie’s credit it doesn’t torture its adult audience as it entertains their kids.

Must-see movie of the summer? No. But Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is a cool 90 minutes of movie-theater air conditioning and harmless kid fun. B

Rated PG for mild humor and peril. Directed by Carlos Saldanha and Mike Thurmeier and written by Michael Berg, Peter Ackerman, Mike Reiss, Yoni Brenner and Jason Carter Eaton, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is an hour and 27 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by 20th Century Fox